03/20/2014 12:36 pm ET Updated May 20, 2014

How Do You Value an Impression?

Imagine that the local ice cream truck of your childhood is rolling down your street. His haphazardly painted truck is blasting a mélange of slightly off-tune notes to produce a variation of that classic ice cream man song (popularly remembered as the tune from 'Pop Goes the Weasel')

You run out of the house grabbing whatever change you can get your hands on in the minute or less you have to get outside before he disappears indefinitely. You hop on your streamer-and-basket upgraded bicycle and pedal furiously to catch up but alas, he has disappeared. You will not be eating ice cream today.

Now let's calculate. Should that interaction count as one impression for the ice cream man brand? How do you value that impression?

Ok, what about this alternate scenario. You run outside and while the ice cream man has still passed by, your best friend and next-door neighbor saved you one bite of her favorite frozen treat (for me it was the Pink Panther with bubble gum eyes). You retreat back with your tiny, tasty morsel in tow, as a champion, and eat it right in front of your house on the porch steps as the sun beats down on your friends play tag in the middle of the street.

Is that a different interaction between you and ice cream man brand? A different impression?

Now let's imagine it's 2014. You're still a kid, but now you're online playing your favorite web based game on your favorite kid friendly website. An interactive ad pops up for, guess who, the ice cream man who has just spent his life savings on a beautiful online interactive campaign. The great thing is that you can see the truck moving down a street in a stylish video, the street may not be yours but you can hear the all too familiar theme song too. If you never had the first experience of the physical ice cream man, it may not mean much. But if you had, it may mean a lot.

While the ways in which the ice cream man can reach consumers are endless, one thing is certain. That in order for the ice cream man to succeed, eventually the potential consumer has to perform the action of walking out their door and buying the ice cream in the street. This provides a clear hierarchy for the ways in which we, as marketers, should place a value on the ways in which we impress our message upon the consumer. The more emotionally correlated the attachment, the more valuable and potentially lasting the impression. The question of how related the emotional response is to the purchasing impetus and how closely we can align the two will also dictate how we should value this impression.

So what happens when the ice cream man starts selling online? For $1.99/day, you can now have Pink Panther pops cold delivered to your doorstep (or even a rotation of select popsicles and ice creams hand curated by the ice cream man himself). Which method of impression then becomes most valuable?

The answer is a mixture. If you can combine that experience of having chased down the truck and the constant reminders and interaction of online impressions you can create a relevant engagement or a referenced impression. A heightened experience with a brand that may or may not be replicable but can always be remind-able. This heightened experience can only be achieved with a blend of sensory marketing; a mixture of engagement across multiple senses. Yes, those five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing.

If you look up the classic definition of impression, you'll find this: 1. An effect, feeling, or image retained as a consequence of experience. An impression is subjective, it is a human experience. And as humans, we can experience in five ways. As marketers, we often get so caught up in our P&L's, user acquisition robots, and bragging about how many people 'like' our brand that it's easy to forget how people are even impressed upon in the first place and why that's important at all. So hammering people with visuals might be one way to pump up your visual impression count but might lack some much needed cross-sensory relevancy.

So what about the other three senses? Taste, smell and touch. Well, these senses can only be, at time of writing in 2014, experienced IN PERSON. So then, how do you create the full ice cream man brand experience in 2014? You have to diversify your impressions across all multiple senses in the order that makes sense for your brand. It is likely that people might not need to taste or smell anything in order to buy pants from Bonobos -- but what if Bonobos treated their top markets to a banana smoothie and a sit-on-the-lap photo with a live chimp? Might that deepen the connection to the brand the next time a retargeted ad shows up in your consumer's browser with a little reminder of the experience? Absolutely.

The TL;DR version of the above is, as follows. In order to engage humans, we must engage in multiple senses. Stay the course on your existing media plan and keep up the online social engagement and conversation -- but give people something more of your brand, something more human. It's nice to communicate digitally in an age where that has become exclusively possible but we have to continue to touch one another in the ways we are wired to appreciate. Come outside to touch your consumers... hurry, before the ice cream melts.